Debate on overtime expansion reaches Columbia

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COLUMBIA - The president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce is getting local businesses involved in the national debate on overtime.

The U.S. Labor Department is proposing a change in the base salary required to receive overtime. It is currently about $23,000 a year, but would shift to $50,000 if the proposal is approved, greatly expanding the number of qualified workers.

Business owners nationwide say that 113 percent hike is too much. The National Retail Federation has an article on its home page urging people to leave comments on the Labor Department's website to oppose the measure, saying it will will hurt retailers.

Matt McCormick, president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said the measure will not only be costly for some Columbia businesses, but will burden employees as well. 

"Businesses have to get much more strict about how many hours people work, you start losing flexibility in your job, or having reduced hours to make sure everybody stays under that hourly rate," McCormick said.

He plans to post his own comment on the labor department's page and then urge Columbia Chamber of Commerce businesses to do the same. He said he will argue citizens should get more time to share their views.

The Labor Department as already anticipated this request. 

"We believe a 60-day comment period provides sufficient time for interested parties to submit substantial comment," its website states.

McCormick said he urges salaried employees to start educating themselves on the topic soon. 

"I would be worried about it now, as how that's classified and what that's going to do to start shifting, whenever it would be, if it passes, if it moves forward, if it's put in place, at what point would that start shifting how your work environment looks," McCormick said. 

President Obama asked the labor department in 2014 to update regulations to protect the salaries of more white-collar workers. The department says the proposed rule "would extend overtime protections to nearly 5 million white collar workers within the first year of its implementation."

The website says the proposed change is "a critical first step toward ensuring hard-working Americans are compensated fairly and have a chance to get ahead."

The last day to leave a comment on the proposal is Sept. 4.